Long Beach, The Grand Canyon and the Interconnectedness of Things
It is now the lazy, hazy, dog days of summer as I write this after returning from a family vacation. During July and August, my teaching schedule tapers off. My husband is a school teacher and now that we have kids in school or about to start school, our vacation time is best taken in the summer. Last year, my husband, my younger brother, our two kids and I stole my parents’ van and visited the Grand Canyon en route to a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas. This year, we visited my aforementioned parents on Vancouver Island and then drove to the wild west coast of The Island to Long Beach, near Tofino. We did not steal their van this time; we piled three adults, two children and camping gear into a compact. Yes, it can be done but it is not for the faint of heart or for high maintenance folks, nor is camping with small children.
This was my fifth trip to Long Beach as an adult and every trip is different, wild and beautiful in its own way. Long Beach is part of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, on the westernmost part of Vancouver Island. There is only one campground that is close to the beach and that’s where we have always stayed. As soon as you arrive in the old growth forested campground, the ocean is ever present. You can smell it, feel it in the damp air and hear it as you fall asleep at night. Then there is the vastness of sandy beach, the enormity of the Pacific Ocean as you look across the dome of sea and sky to the horizon and you know that there is nothing but ocean and sky for half of the planet until you reach Japan. One visit to Long Beach inspired the song of the same title. Another visit in 2004 was just after the death of my father-in-law. During that trip, I had a very personal and intense experience that is not for sharing on this blog but it related to my father-in-law. I mention these experiences because Long Beach magnifies what you bring to it. If you are in a good place emotionally, the visit will be a peaceful time for you. If you are in a dark and turbulent state, you may have a frightening experience. The Pacific Ocean is visceral, elemental, peaceful and capricious. All life as it exists on this planet began in the ocean and will return there in one way or another. It’s where we all initially started and where we will all end. Spend an hour at Long Beach and you understand how utterly insignificant we are and yet how precious, fragile and interconnected is this life, this world.
Then there is the Grand Canyon. Pictures and flying over it once in the plane did not prepare me for it; I am still not prepared for it. We came at the canyon through the north as we drove down through Utah and Arizona. It begins with a rather small bridge near the Utah/Arizona border. I said to my brother, “Well this is pretty cool” to which he replied, “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. He was right. When we arrived at the North Rim in the late afternoon, we caught our breaths collectively as we viewed the Canyon in all its majesty from one of many lookout points. We checked into our campsite and set up while my brother, the amateur photographer, took pictures until sundown. The rest of us (the husband and the boys) went to the main lookout and viewing area the next morning. At the bottom of the canyon are rocks that are two billion years old. As you look up, you see the ripples of sedimentary rock from when this desert was once covered by the sea. All of this was carved out over only six million years by the great Colorado River, two kilometers below.
I am not a person who is given to public displays of strong and excessive emotion but as I sat by the Grand Canyon, much to my shock and moderate embarrassment, I began to weep and I could not stop. My husband asked my what was wrong and all I could blurt out was, “It’s so beautiful.” At the time, I could not comprehend why I had such an emotional reaction. We eventually left and made our way to Las Vegas for the remainder of the day, much of which I spent curled up in the back of the van, still weeping.
While driving from glorious display of the Grand Canyon to the perverse excess of Las Vegas, I began to understand my reaction to the Grand Canyon. It is a snapshot of this fragile, magnificent Earth – a snapshot of time. As I stood at the edge of the Canyon, I briefly glimpsed our utter insignificance and the fleeting nature of our human existence and, at the same time, I understood what wondrous events must have occurred for the Grand Canyon to exist, for Earth to exist. Sometimes, the beauty of this world is visceral, like Long Beach, like the Grand Canyon. Extreme landscapes like those make you appreciate this whirling ball of elements that we live on. I have understood beauty while performing music. Sometimes, if you are very, very lucky, you can understand beauty by standing at the edge of the world or the edge of a canyon.
At present, I don’t know what to call myself. I don’t identify as agnostic or as an atheist; however, I no longer identify as a theist either. I don’t know if there is an afterlife but I am starting to believe in the interconnectedness of things. Every atom, every cell in my body was once a part of the ocean that covered the vast inland sea where some remnants form the rocks of the Grand Canyon. The gold in the ring of my wedding band was once part of a star that exploded billions of years ago. Every part of this Earth, every part of us came from the stars and, in a few billion years, all of this will be burned away into the cosmos by the sun as she explodes and becomes a dwarf star. Everything in this physical world is interconnected so perhaps, whatever it is that some call souls or the life force that binds us together, is interconnected as well.
Perhaps there is other life on another world but we based on what we know so far, this is all we’ve got. We must take care of this fragile, mighty world; we have to take care of this world and each other, now more than ever. Not to do so is desecration. I’m guilty of contributing to pollution and human rights violations. I write this blog on a computer that was made in a factory where people earn terribly low wages and I own a vehicle that I drive regularly despite the fact that I live in a city with bike routes and accessible public transit. But I will try to live a more green lifestyle and get more involved in civic action. I learned this much from my travels in the last two summers: everything is interconnected. And so, my religion at present, if I can even call it that, is “The Interconnectedness of Things.”